Yiannis Boutaris, 70, a successful Greek winemaker has been mayor of Thessaloniki for 18 months. Thessaloniki, Greece, is a sprawling city of 800,000 people on the Aegean Sea. It is second in size only to Athens.
Bankrupt & Corrupt
Boutaris inherited a city on the brink of bankruptcy (nearly $130 million in debt), with outdated laws and regulations, corruption, manufacturing decline and few tourists. His predecessor and 17 colleagues have been indicted – accused of stealing about $38 million.
Under these conditions, pundits gave the new mayor little prospect for success. Bloated municipal employment, inadequate basic services, discord with Turkey, and tangled regulations were all accepted as “normal.” However, this wiry septuagenarian who sports a pierced earring and frequently punctuates his point of view with profanity, knows two fundamental factors vital for change: will and capacity.
Will & Capacity
Will is the practical and political determination to persist. Will endures both obstacles and critics. It prevails. Boutaris advises: “When you propose the slightest change, people say no. If you do it all at once, it is a different thing. Something has to break through.” He adds: “You cannot step back, if you step back you lose.”
Capacity is about the strategic management acumen to make smart, hard choices that enable performance. Capacity reflects knowledge, skills, training and experience. Boutaris has made unpopular but effective decisions about budgets, employees, public policy and external relations. He is changing practices with a focus on different and better.
Whether a community, an organization or individual, will and capacity are requisites for change to occur.
Boutaris is undeterred in his reforms. (For more, see NYT Saturday Profile.) To date he has begun recycling programs, resumed relations with Turkey, grown tourism, and instituted unheard of practices at City Hall: job descriptions, goals and evaluations. He has cut city costs by 30%. One man insists on making his hometown a place of progress and growth.
I bet it happens.
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com